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No, Wired, the Web is not 'dead'

Anytime I see a headline in Wired magazine declaring something "dead" or "over" I'm instinctively suspicious -- usually with good reason. This month's cover story, provocatively and misleadingly titled "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet," fits right into that pattern.

In that piece, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson argues that we're moving from an Internet of public Web pages to one of applications and walled-garden sites:

Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It's driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it's a world Google can't crawl, one where HTML doesn't rule.

That, to recycle an old Wired put-down, represents some low-res thinking.

It's true that smartphone and iPad apps can do things that Web pages cannot. It's true that the advertising isn't making as much money for Web sites as many people have hoped. (Ahem.) But to conclude from those data points that the Web is dead or even dying is the kind of unfounded speculation that ... shows up in Wired cover stories fairly regularly.

(Wired's breathlessly-wrong 1997 cover story, "Push! Kiss your browser goodbye: The radical future of media beyond the Web," remains the best example of that, though you have to give Anderson credit for noting that in the fifth paragraph.)

Consider the apps-versus-Web-pages issue. The popularity of smartphone apps reflects some temporary competitive imbalances. Many Web sites have yet to see the kind of smartphone-aware redesign that makes the iPhone- and Android-compatible versions of the Facebook and Twitter sites such a pleasure to use. Many others can't be viewed on an iPhone or iPad at all, thanks to Steve Jobs's banning of Adobe Flash on those devices -- an issue Anderson's piece doesn't mention.

Meanwhile, until Web design catches up -- which it will -- it's easier to build location-awareness and photo-sharing features into apps than into mobile Web pages.

But purely Web-based applications have advantages of their own, such as not being subject to Apple's sometimes-inscrutable curatorship of the App Store. Nor do they need to be rewritten for different smartphone platforms.

Then there's the economics angle of Anderson's argument, that it's easier to make a buck with an app than a Web site. Sure, the App Store makes it blissfully easy to give your money to app developers, but that's not so simple in the Android Market -- especially in the dozens of countries outside the U.S. in which Google hasn't enabled app purchases.

Further, that doesn't mean you can't charge for access to a Web site -- something successfully done by such publications as Consumer Reports and the Wall Street Journal -- or that you even need to. As Anderson should know all too well, having written a decent book on the subject last year, there's more than one way to make money on something given away online.

Wired doesn't help the piece's credibility by topping it with a misleading chart that shows Web pages taking up a smaller proportion of the Internet's bandwidth. That chart doesn't show the overall growth of the Internet -- which, when reformatted as Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza helpfully did yesterday, shows that Web use has kept climbing, just not quite as rapidly as video.

For another critique of Anderson's piece, see the one Anderson nominated in a tweet as "the best": Atlantic Monthly writer Alexis Madrigal's post noting that new technologies rarely sweep their predecessors off the map.

For a smarter discussion of the Web-versus-apps competition, click past the cover story and a companion piece by Michael Wolff to read a debate between Anderson and Web entrepreneurs Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle. It ends with Battelle astutely remarking that:

If the scope of the piece was really just about the web as a viable model for "professional content" as we see it, then splashing "The Death of the Web" on the cover might be, well, overstating the case just a wee bit ...

Sounds about right to me.

What's your forecast for the future of the Web, mobile and otherwise, as compared to Internet-connected apps? In which do you think you'll spend most of your time five years from now?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 18, 2010; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Mobile , Recommended reading , The Web , The business we have chosen  
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Comments

Rob - Excellent points throughout on this counterpoint to the rather ridiculous WIRED article on the Web supposedly being dead. My big question is: Didn't we already have this debate 10 years ago with the rapid demise of AOL's walled-garden style content, where many companies and brands created two separate sites? Didn't we all realize then that walled-off content, whether that be via an AOL-like portal, or an iPhone app, makes little sense to the general public?

Also, given the fact that Apple is rapidly losing smartphone marketshare to Android-based phones, and each platform (Apple and Android) each has its own distinct apps that, for the most part, can't be used across both platforms, it would stand to reason that until the smartphone/app market stabilizes some, which is unlikely to happen for another 3-5 years, the Web is still going to be the dominant source of Internet use for the majority of people.

Finally, what Chris, Anderson, WIRED and many tech pundits often forget is that much of the world doesn't have any use for apps because much of the world does not yet use smartphones. For developing countries, one of the fastest growing, and really, last untapped markets for Web access, smartphones usage is almost nil, yet they do use standard flip cellphones, which require, yep, standard Web access via browsers.

While the Web as we know it is certainly changing, it's absurd for anyone to claim that it is dead. The Web, like everything else in technology, will continue to evolve for business and consumer use as people see fit to use it, but that doesn't mean it will die out.

Keith Trivitt
Sternberg Strategic Communications
@KeithTrivitt

Posted by: ktrivitt | August 18, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Rob,
Obviously the sensationalist headline is garbage, but I do think the web is dying, at least in terms of the way we used to think of it in the late 90's. Back then, people used to surf the web. It was an activity unto itself - they would go from page to page, following links wherever they led. Now that is a quaint notion and people just go to a handful of sites they know. To me whether these sites are walled-off sites, applications, or plain old blogs is irrelevant. When people need something specific that is outside their normal routine, they search for it. Maybe the Wired folks haven't presented their case with perfect eloquence, but there is something to their message.

Posted by: slar | August 18, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

yeah i read that article from google news earlier, incidentally i am reading this from google news as well, and i was just amazed at how crappy the wired article was. whoever wrote that is a d00cher and has no idea what they are talking about. i love home apple sells 3 million ipads and now all of the sudden the internet changes.

Posted by: BMACattack | August 18, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

when I heard his spouting this garbage on NPR this morning I thought the same thing. This guy is an idiot. To me the web isn't about the browser and the web is not the internet in some ways is the protocol. HTTP is still used by a lot of the apps and http is the web. It doesn't matter if it's a browser or an iPhone app if it uses that protocol it's the web and right now they use that protocol to push the data.

Posted by: owendylan | August 18, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Read about the impact of new funding in Missouri for broadband Internet is affecting local companies here:

http://proposition13.blogspot.com/2010/08/source-materials.html

Posted by: HitEleven | August 19, 2010 3:26 AM | Report abuse

This is one of the reasons I no longer subscribe to Wired magazine.

Posted by: jmyers8888 | August 19, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

The WEB has not been admitted to the ICU yet.

Posted by: docchari | August 21, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

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